A 'Life' changing film for the young actor of 'Pi'

NEW YORK (AP) — The only thing more unlikely than a movie about a boy adrift on a ship with a Bengali tiger is the tale of the film's star.

Teenager Suraj Sharma went along with his acting brother to a Delhi, India, audition of "Life of Pi" purely as a favor, motivated by the promise of a free meal.

"He said, 'Come with me because I don't want to go alone,'" Sharma recalled in an interview at Lincoln Center shortly before the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in September. "I said, 'Fine, as long as you buy me a sandwich afterwards.' That sandwich got me 'Pi.'"

For a film about the wonder of faith, Sharma's experience is one that stretches belief. Despite no prior acting experience or ambition, he managed to separate himself from 3,000 applicants and emerged through four rounds of auditions as the star in one of the most anticipated movies of the year.

For "Life of Pi" to work, Sharma — now 19, 17 when filming started — had to succeed. And many think the film, to be released Wednesday, not only works, but is a legitimate Oscar contender — a 3-D magic act from director Ang Lee that translates Yann Martel's 2001 best seller into a colorful cinematic language.

In it, Sharma plays Pi Patel, who, as a child, precociously combines Christianity, Buddhism and Islam into his own blend of religion. When his family is uprooted to Canada, the ship taking Pi, his family and many zoo animals, sinks in a storm, leaving Pi alone and clinging to life in a raft boat.

Making the film meant working with one of the most revered directors in movies. It meant spending months shooting in India and Taiwan, where a giant water tank was built for scenes at sea. It meant learning not only how to act, but literally how to swim.

"I can't put it in words," says Sharma, a bright and earnest kid who humbly recognizes his good fortune. "It's too much. It was emotionally and spiritually and physically exhausting. I would never be able to tell people what I went through exactly, but hopefully it will come through in some ways."

It was a journey Sharma's parents (both mathematicians, fittingly) had some reluctance about, as it would mean missing a year of school. Lee argued a year spent working on "Life of Pi" would be more rewarding than a year of school. Sharma's mother performed a ceremony that made Lee her son's guru — a new role for the director.

"I couldn't even tell a joke in front of him. I had to behave," Lee jokes. "I had to look after him. Normally when I work with actors, they move on and I move on. ... I can pretty much say he started at the top — getting this kind of reception and making a movie. So I want to make sure he's grounded and still getting his education — not only in school but in life. He should be OK if he doesn't get crushed by what's coming."

"He's a good boy," adds Lee. "It seems like he can take it."

In "Life of Pi," there's nowhere for a young actor to hide, either. For a long stretch of the film, Pi is alone in the skiff with only the tiger, which was digitally added. Sharma had the added pressure of acting extensively in front of a blue screen, with little to go on other than Lee's directions.

"Honestly, I still feel like I don't know how to act," says Sharma. "It was just him. I was just an instrument. He has this thing — suppose you're really nervous and stressed out and going crazy — he'll look you in the eye in a particular manner, and no matter who it is, you just go: whoosh! He's like a Zen master or something. He makes you so calm that you just let him mold you into whatever he wants to mold you into."

Sharma is now in his first year at Delhi University where he's concentrating his studies on philosophy.

"I'm pretty sure I want to end up in the film industry," he says. "I don't know if I want to act or not, but I do want to be part of making magic."

___

Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/jake_coyle

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Comedian Anne Meara, mother of actor Ben Stiller, dies at 85
    Comedian Anne Meara, mother of actor Ben Stiller, dies at 85

    (Reuters) - New York-born actress and comedian Anne Meara, known for her opposites-attract comedy routine with husband Jerry Stiller, died over the weekend, her family said on Sunday. Meara, the mother of actor Ben Stiller, died on Saturday, her family said in a statement through a representative, but provided no details about the circumstances of her death. "She is survived by her husband and partner in life Jerry Stiller," the statement said. …

  • Redford to college graduates: World needs you; be fearless

    WATERVILLE, Maine (AP) — Two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford is encouraging college graduates to be fearless in a world of challenges and to become collaborators with others and the environment to overcome life's daunting difficulties. …

  • Actress, comedian Anne Meara, nominated for 4 Emmys, dies
    Actress, comedian Anne Meara, nominated for 4 Emmys, dies

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anne Meara, the loopy, lovable comedian who launched a standup career with husband Jerry Stiller in the 1950s and found success as an actress in films, on TV and the stage, has died. …

  • Actress Anne Meara, wife of Jerry Stiller, dies
    Actress Anne Meara, wife of Jerry Stiller, dies

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actress and comedian Anne Meara, whose comic work with husband Jerry Stiller helped launch a 60-year career in film and TV, has died. She was 85. …

  • France wins big, Italy, Blanchett lose out in Cannes
    France wins big, Italy, Blanchett lose out in Cannes

    By Michael Roddy CANNES, France (Reuters) - French film "Dheepan" won the top Palme d'Or prize for director Jacques Audiard at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival on Sunday, crowning a good night for French cinema but a bad one for Italy and actress Cate Blanchett. The choice of a film that revolves around the lives of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka's civil war moving to France was seen as sending a political message, but the awards overall left some critics and festivalgoers …

  • Famed Detroit jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave dies at 78
    Famed Detroit jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave dies at 78

    DETROIT (AP) — Marcus Belgrave, a jazz trumpeter who graced stages and studios with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Cocker and Motown artists galore, died Sunday. He was 78. …

  • Audiard's 'Dheepan' wins Palme d'Or in upset Cannes finale
    Audiard's 'Dheepan' wins Palme d'Or in upset Cannes finale

    CANNES, France (AP) — The 68th Cannes Film Festival was brought to a surprising close Sunday with Jacques Audiard's Sri Lankan refugee drama taking the festival's coveted top honor, the Palme d'Or. …

  • David Letterman drives into retirement with Indy 500 tribute
    David Letterman drives into retirement with Indy 500 tribute

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — David Letterman has a new No. 1 on his personal Top Ten list of reasons he loves the Indianapolis 500. …

  • Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Celebrity News - Fri, Feb 20, 2015 1:47 AM PHT
    Beyonce's unretouched L'Oreal photos only latest in her long history of Photoshop controvers …

    Beyonce’s #Flawless image is embroiled in controversy once again. On Wednesday, a web site called The Beyonce World leaked 224 allegedly raw photos of the musician. The images showed Bey in full makeup for the 2013 L’Oreal ad campaign — but with the kinds of “imperfections” we all have — beauty marks, bumps, creases. In the wake of Cindy Crawford’s unretouched photos, the images have been praised by critics of a beauty industry that sets impossibly high standards, standards that Queen Bey …

  • Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    omg - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 12:14 AM PHT
    Taylor Swift reveals ‘Style’ video

    The 25-year-old released the video for her third cut from platinum selling album 1989. …

  • My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    Write Away - Wed, Jan 28, 2015 2:29 PM PHT
    My mother-in-law’s personal encounter with the pope

    For my mother-in-law Mrs. Elsa Yrastorza Yuzon, flying and soaring in the skies is part of her normal routine. But it reached new heights when Pope Francis boarded Shepherd One. …